These aren’t the definitive best movies of 2016 according to a random genre-loving lady in the Pacific Northwest (that would be me). These are my favorites. No objectivity or arguing necessary.
Without further ado…
#20 The Nice Guys
Shane Black is so good at making run-over-twice Hollywood material feel fresh. I may have a few nits about this movie, but damn, it’s funny. Gosling and Crowe are a delightful duet of sleaze and heart.
#19 I Am Not a Serial Killer
This little movie scores big points for originality. And Christopher Lloyd!!! Shot on 16mm film, the gritty gem begins with an intriguing premise and then leads you down a rural Midwestern road of unexpected turns.
If you’re a fan of Key and Peele and you haven’t seen Keanu, then get on my level. I mean, they made a $15 Million action movie about a kitten being kidnapped. A kitten named after Keanu Reeves. What are you waiting for?
#17 Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
The subtitle could have been: “Never Stop Laughing.” Bad idea? Yeah. I know. But it makes my point. This movie is simply hilarious. There’s a variety of humor to make anyone giggle, from subtle character moments inspired by mockumentary legend Christopher Guest to over-the-top, slapstick scenes straight out of Jackass. The Lonely Island crew is at the top of their game here.
#16 Manchester by the Sea
This is a sad fucking story, but I honestly spent more time chuckling at the relatable characters and enjoying the Massachusetts-isms than crying. While it’s not colorful and stylish, it will punch you in the gut like a drunk janitor from Boston would. Full disclosure: I’ve never even been to Boston.
Thank you Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel for one of the most excellent home invasion/slasher films in recent memory. It doesn’t reinvent the formula of its sub-genre, but it showcases a unique heroine with a disability that would seem to make her an easy victim (except that it doesn’t). Flanagan executes every moment of tension with an ethereal blend of beauty and fear.
#14 They Look Like People
I’ve tried to describe this film on several occasions, but always fail to capture its quiet, insane brilliance. It’s a character study. It’s about mental illness. It’s about feeling powerless against personal demons. It’s about friendship. It’s about trust. And it’s sort of kind of about an impending demonic invasion that may or may not be real. Give it a shot.
This could be the best Valentine’s Day movie of all time. What a treat for all of the vile, mean-spirited folks out there…which is obviously a lot of people since this meta, R-rated superhero movie made bank. Watch this one with Grandma. She’ll love it.
#12 Kubo and the Two Strings
This children’s story climbed up on my list for its incredible art alone. The story could have been total garbage (but don’t worry, it’s not) and I still would have felt like I walked out of an art gallery upon exiting the theatre. Plus, it features some of the scariest villains of 2016. Seriously.
A colorful work of Disney glory that features fantastic songs and a kickass heroine/princess. It was a breath of fresh, sea air among animated films that tell the same old stories with the same old people again and again. If nothing else convinces you, there’s a David Bowie crab.
#10 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
It somehow fits perfectly into the Star Wars cinematic universe and yet stands apart as a strikingly different type of filmmaking. The opening scene, with rain-battered faces and a white cape violently dancing in the wind, embodies the horrors of imperialism like no other Stars Wars film has. And soon thereafter, K2 had me laughing the way only a droid from a Star Wars movie could.
#9 The Purge: Election Year
I love, love, love The Purge films. Since the original, they have escalated to a larger scale piece of political spitfire. The third entry to the franchise was on-the-nose, but so on point about the socioeconomic hurdles and corrupt oligarchy our country faces. It may not be the most polished work of art, but it has something to say and does it with unforgettable set pieces.
#8 La La Land
I am not the person who expected to put a nostalgic musical about Hollywood on her year-end favorite list. Inspired by the great Singin’ in the Rain, La La Land is a modern tale of finding and losing dreams, inspiration, and love. It’s not a sugar-coated cookie of a movie either. It may look like a fairytale, but it’s not. It’s a sharp-witted adventure about the ups and downs of being an artist, about mistakes that become opportunities, and simply about never giving up.
#7 Nocturnal Animals
This movie is just one sick burn. An elaborate revenge story told in the tiny details of broken hearts. It’s gritty yet rich, pulpy yet elegant. Tom Ford unfolds the dark metaphors of human relationships in a voice like no other. My husband’s one-word response to this film: savage.
#6 Captain Fantastic
I never expected to see a film with characters who celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday in a similar fashion to Christmas. Captain Fantastic is an exploration of anarchism, freedom, intellectualism, childhood, and parenthood. With an incredible cast, this movie sucks you in from its eerily quiet beginning until its colorfully festive conclusion. While making you laugh and making you cry, it will also stir internal conversations about your place in the modern world and how to participate without sacrificing your values.
#5 10 Cloverfield Lane
Pure craft. It’s hard to believe this was Dan Trachtenberg’s first feature film. Tension, humor, and character development are balanced with perfection. I adore the film’s dialogue-free, quick-cutting opening that almost plays like a 2016 version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. By now you’ve probably heard about the film’s ending, but there’s so much more to this claustrophobic thriller. You’ll twist and turn the whole movie.
#4 The Conjuring 2
If James Wan wasn’t already considered a “Master of Horror,” The Conjuring 2 forever cements his status as genre royalty. Just as good, if not better, than the original, this sequel is teaming with iconic villains and chilling scenes. Only James Wan can make a toy fire truck haunt your dreams. Nothing feels safe in this movie. And best of all, Ed and Lorraine Warren are written with such care that every moment of terror is equally punctuated by heart.
A movie that mangles your heart and grips your mind. Amy Adam’s somber and textured performance is the anchor to Arrival’s dramatic sci-fi tale. Through humankind’s battles with the unknown, Arrival expounds on the importance of empathetic communication. This film explores many other ideas, but discussing them all risks tipping off the stomach-wrenching conclusion. See this movie and you’ll be thinking about it for days.
#2 Green Room
I’m all about Jeremy Saulnier. This guy is 3 for 3 in my ledger. Green Room begins with the quiet characterization of a struggling punk band on the road and before long, the viewer is ensnared in a gloriously intense, uncomfortably violent action film. Though extreme, Saulnier’s violence feels organic and matter-of-fact — and unfortunately all too real in today’s political climate.
#1 The Invitation
I’m in love with this film. Grief is wrapped into a taut horror story about a Hollywood Hills dinner party gone so, so wrong. Karyn Kusama’s direction is masterful. She drives each cast member to an incredibly nuanced performance. Every frame drips with dread, as the deliciously unsettling score elevates the tension to synchronize with the growing discomfort of the dinner guests. To say much more would disrupt the magical experience of watching this incredible film unfold, which feels like playing a game of Russian Roulette (or at least, how I imagine it would feel). See it. And if you’ve already seen it, see it again.
Disclaimer: There are still a good deal of 2016 films that I have not seen yet. Some of these include: Moonlight, The Handmaiden, Doctor Strange, American Honey, The Wailing, Train to Busan, Silence, Jackie, Elle.